Monday, 1 December 2008
A Catalan currach
The currach is a curious craft, tar-blacked skin stretched on a tied wooden frame, a light-weight open rowing boat indigenous to the wet, windswept coasts of western Ireland and Scotland; the long and lean cousin of the Welsh coracle.
Although the currach is not what many would consider especially seaworthy having no reserve buoyancy and being of flimsy build, it is possible that Saint Brendan the Navigator crossed the Atlantic to Newfoundland in the 6th century aboard a similar craft. Tim Severin’s voyage of 1976 proved that such a journey was possible and that currachs are as at home on ocean waters as they are on the rivers Shannon, Lee and Spey. And Saint Beccan of Rum, in the late 7th century, wrote of another seafaring saint, Columba:
‘In scores of curraghs with an army of wretches he crossed the long-haired sea.
He crossed the wave-strewn wild region,
Foam flecked, seal-filled, savage, bounding, seething, white-tipped, pleasing, doleful.’
Though a far cry from the wild Atlantic coast Irish artist Mark Redden built a currach for contained seas of the Mediterranean. Working from a studio in Barcelona with essentially the same materials that he uses for constructing the supports for his paintings; wood and canvas, Mark adapted the currach for Mediterranean use. The typically raised bows, unnecessary with no Atlantic swells to cope with, were lowered and the materials were all sourced locally. Mark employed hazel switches from the north of Catalonia for the frames and steam bent white pine for the inwales and stringers.
He covered the boat with canvas but rather than painting it with tar, which he considered would melt in the summer heat, he gave it a few coats of a flexible plastic based paint.
Mark learned his skills in Cork and as well as having built currachs in Ireland and Scotland he has also built one in Australia. He says that even though he may move on he leaves the boat where it was built so that people can continue to enjoy it. On this build Mark was aided by Narcis Fors a young Catalan builder who studied boat building in Canada and specialises in skin on frame kayaks. Narcis, under the name Belone, builds high quality bespoke kayaks on the Costa Brava.
The currach was launched on St Patrick’s Day 2008 in Barcelona. The local TV station made a 13-minute documentary, which can be viewed here. Although Mark talks in English the Catalan commentary drowns him out, but the film may still be of interest for the archive shots of currachs, views of run down areas of Barcelona, the build, the launch and shots of the currach in action on the Costa Brava where it now lives, in Lloret de Mar.